Millions of people in the UK face a “winter of despair”, with one in four unable to afford their energy bills in October based on current forecasts, Citizens Advice has warned.
The 24% of people who will not be able to afford to pay for their energy is double the number already in the red ahead of the price cap rise, according to figures released by the advisory service.
And it said the figure could jump to one in three (34%) in January when prices are predicted to soar above £4,200.
The charity said its projections take account of the energy rebate and cost-of-living payments offered by the Government, showing that spiralling costs are rapidly outstripping the support on offer.
Of those who will not be able to pay in October, the majority (68%) have a household income of less than £30,000, the research found.
They also include 3.2 million disabled people and 4.4 million families with children.
On average, those who cannot afford autumn’s predicted rise will end up almost £100 a month in debt.
Citizens Advice said future support must target those who need it the most.
Alongside further interventions from the Government to help households with bills, it is calling for industry regulator Ofgem to ensure that people are protected from the most serious consequences of falling into arrears, including a suspension of forced installations of prepayment meters.
The charity also warned that rising prices will drag more people into “dire circumstances”, with many of its frontline advisers already sharing reports of people who had never previously contacted Citizens Advice needing crisis support such as food bank referrals and fuel vouchers.
Its analysis suggests that more than half of those who will be in debt in October (53%) will not receive the additional cost-of-living payments targeted at those on benefits, disabled people and low-income pensioners.
With future price rises rapidly outpacing the value of the energy rebate, it warned that further action will be needed to stop more people falling into debt.
In July, the charity saw record numbers of people who were unable to top up their prepayment meter – the fifth time the record has been broken this year – while its web page on help with rising living costs was viewed more than 70,000 times – an increase of 40% on its previous record in March 2020 when the country went into the first national coronavirus lockdown.
Citizens Advice chief executive Dame Clare Moriarty said: “Every single day at Citizens Advice we’re already helping people in the most heart-breaking circumstances, trying to scrape together enough to feed their kids and keep the lights on. This will get far, far worse unless the Government acts.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that skyrocketing prices will swallow up all of the help that has been announced so far.
“Every day that goes by without a plan is another day without reassurance for people who desperately need it. We urgently need further support, otherwise we risk a winter of despair for millions.”